Bittern at Gosling Sike!

Maddy Marshall of Cumbria Wildlife Trust provides an account of a sighting earlier this year:

Reports of sightings of a Bittern at Gosling Sike Nature Reserve in Carlisle began in early December 2023. By mid December, these sightings were confirmed by a local wildlife enthusiast who managed to take a picture of the bird. This was quite an achievement in itself due to the Bittern’s secretive nature and extraordinary ability to camouflage. The Bittern has an amber conservation status and was once extinct in the UK, but has made a comeback in recent years. The sighting was a significant event as it was the first report of this magnificent bird at Gosling Sike. Since then, the Bittern has been sighted a number of times on the reserve by Cumbria Wildlife Trust staff and members of the public. There has been lots of speculation as to what brought the bird to Gosling Sike, the most popular being that the long stretch of freezing temperatures caused the bird to change site. The known abundance of Common Frogs at the site, some of which hibernate in water rather than on land, may have attracted it. Despite its secretive nature, the Bittern was spotted a number of times in the reedbeds surprisingly close to the path and public walk ways where people often walk their dogs without leads. A trail camera was set up near to the pond where it was seen most; after a week, footage was caught of the Bittern walking across the frozen pond not long after a group of keen bird watchers had left the site. There have been no further sightings but some think they have heard its booming call so we are hopeful it will return.

The appearance of the Bittern at Gosling Sike is a testament to the importance of nature reserves in preserving and protecting wildlife. The wetlands at Gosling Sike were developed in 2012 under the supervision of reserves officer, Kevin Scott, after a generous donation of land from Susan Aglionby. The canalised river was re-wiggled to slow down the flow of water through the site meaning the area was able to retain more water and common reeds were planted to filter contaminated water. Heterogenous ponds were created to add complexity to the site and to support different habitats for various species thereby increasing biodiversity. Kevin has commented about the Bittern sighting: “I think it’s absolutely fantastic and hugely exciting although it is not a site I would expect it to use for breeding due to it’s size.  However, seeing the return of more nature to this place demonstrates wildlife can co-exist with sustainable farming practices”.

Watch this space for updates of the Gosling Sike Bittern!